Interviews:

Agnew,
Harold

Asam,
Jean

Goodpaster,
Andrew

Knutson,
Martin

McNamara,
Robert

Rotblat,
Joseph

Teller,
Edward

Troyanovski,
Oleg

Welch,
Roy

York,
Herbert



     
   


INTERVIEW WITH HAROLD AGNEW

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INT: How do you decide how many you need?

HA: I think the only way to decide is eventually it has to do with budget and the delivery forces and the infrastructure required to support them. This country right now, I think, is in not a very healthy state, because we have no production facilities whatsoever. There's a limited production facility at Los Alamos and if for some reason, down the road, and it's bound to happen, because all these devices have strange materials in them, plastics, these things will go bad, there's no question that they'll go bad and so you'll either have to forego having them or you'll have to replicate them. There's no need to make any new devices, we've got everything we need, but you may have to replicate them. But being able to replicate things in the future by people who have never made them before, with materials perhaps which are new, which you may not be able to get some of the materials we had in the past, specially some of the plastics and glues and things, they've been banned by our, either OCHA, Occupation Health and Safety Organization or our environmental protection. Strange as it may seem, there are certain materials you cannot handle or even procure, nobody makes 'em any more. So we may have to forgive having certain weapon systems or we may have to replicate 'em and the question comes up, having replicated them are they really the same? They may look the same and on paper the calculations may say they're the same, but I question the wisdom of precluding the opportunity to test existing devices after maybe ten or fifteen or twenty years. I can certainly personally live with a moratorium, have a moratorium with treaties, this so-called CTB or Comprehensive Test Ban. For our country, I don't think we would ever revoke on a treaty, it's just we have people in this country whose whole object in life is to do treaties. They don't care whether the treaties are any good, but that's a job description, to be called ambassadors and make treaties and it doesn't matter the content of the treaties, it's just they like to say they were involved in this treaty or that treaty. And I think, since treaties are ratified by our Congress, their laws, it's very difficult to ever get out of a treaty, for our country. Whereas a moratorium, I think would have the same effect and if indeed there was a pressing need to do a test, you would just say you were going to do a test and let it go at that.

INT: Good answer. Were you ever surprised in particularly the sixties of such a rapid build-up of weapons?

HA: No things were happening in the sixties where it wasn't clear what was going to happen. We had the Cuban so-called Missile Crisis and clearly there numbers were important and the military just kept having more and more presumed targets and more and more delivery vehicles. I wasn't surprised, I must say, the numbers got extremely large and when you have these production facilities sort of like, same way with the Russians we were always amazed in the Vietnam War how many trucks the Russians could build and well, you gentlemen have been to Russia, I don't know if you've ever seen the commercial aircraft that are stacked up there, just sitting, but once you've got a production line going, you know, what's to do but make some more tomorrow? Unfortunately, unlike bread, people don't eat airplanes, so if you made one you've got it and next day you're going to make another one.

INT: That's a very good answer.

HA: One factor which caused a tremendous increase in build-up of the number of weapons was the fact that we had learned - or at least we thought it was true - that the Soviets were putting more than one warhead on their missil. At the time, their missiles were much larger than our missiles and they could carry a much heavier pay load. And we had information, at least we thought we had information, they were using what we MIRV, multiply independent re-entry vehicles. And so, whereas maybe you had a missile that had previously one warhead on it, I mentioned the Mark 49, all of a sudden we were going to put three or six or nine. Well, if you take a submarine, for instance, has sixteen missiles on it, instead of sixteen, if you're going to put, let's say, I'll just use the number for arithmetic, ten, all of a sudden you go from sixteen to a hundred and sixty, the requirement is to go for ten, so there was just a build-up in numbers, because of the MIRV. And this was true of our land-based missiles and it was true of our sea-based missiles. And of course the bombers kept putting more and more bombs, they had them in the bomb bay, they had them on the wings, in missiles, so the numbers went up not so much because of the increased number of carriers, but by the fact that we were doing multiple warheads on missiles and multiple bombs on the bombers. And you know, it doesn't take much for you to have a stock pile of three thousand or four thousand to start with. If you all of a sudden go by ten, you got forty thousand or the requirement for forty thousand.

INT: That's a good answer. In 195 4 the Brobow Test was meant to be a fairly low yield H-bomb, but it in fact was much greater than expected. What happened then?

HA: Well, during the Brobow we had a series of tests to be conducted in the specific and it was the time when we were... subsequent to the Mike Shot, which was our first proof of principle, you might say, and we were then trying to develop a deliverable device and we had several options. We had a liquid device and we had several other devices - I'll just say they used lithium deuterite solid fuels. In one of them, we weren't sure how it would work, we used enriched lithium, another one was just natural lithium. Well, the people at Los Alamos had measured the cross-section for the lithium and neutrons reacting with lithium, which then produced tritium, which then would burn with the deuterium to make the hydrogen bomb. Unfortunately, the technology which was available at that time did not allow them to see that normal lithium actually would work quite well and what happened was, in the first device, which was called Shrimp, which had enriched lithium, but also normal lithium, the normal lithium through what's called a double neutron process an N, 2N process, behaved almost as well as the enriched lithium did. As a result the yield was much higher. And as a result of that we had not been prepared to have such a high yield, so the fall-out area was much larger and unfortunately there was a Japanese fishing vessel, I think called the Lucky Dragon, where some of this fall-out came down on them and they had no information as to what this was and they were a long ways away and before any information got to them or they were detected, some of the people did suffer some radiation effects.

INT: Were you surprised at the public reaction after that?

HA: Well, I guess I was or was not. I lost a lot of friends in the Pacific War with the Japanese, I thought it was unfortunate that human beings had been affected, but people get hurt in all sorts of things all the time. I don't see why the public reaction was quite so strong, although the media has a tremendous effect on public reaction, depending on how it's couched. Had the media not made it quite so flamboyant, I suspect during that same time there were probably several train derailments and butane tanks had blown up or oil refineries or an airplane had crashed, much greater loss of life. But this was played up. It was new and as a result there was a tremendous adverse effect, I think, on the whole program.

INT: Leaping slightly forward, in 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik. How much of a shock was that to you, both scientifically and personally?

HA: Well, to me it bothered me in that I had been close to General Madieras at Huntsville in the army program and appreciated that had they been allowed politically - I don't know what the DoD politics were at that time, the Department of Defense - we could have very rapidly done the same thing. I can remember Johnny von Neumann, who was clearly one of the great intellects of the time, coming into my office - I was a deputy weapons division leader at that time - asking me from what little we knew about Sputnik and the potential, could we make a warhead eventually that we could put it on a missile. And that was the first time, I think, we really worried about the fact that instead of having many hours for someone to deliver a bomb by aircraft, that all of a sudden if you were in Europe, a less than half an hour or in the United States if they had longer range missiles, you know, in an hour or so that you could be under attack. So I think we were very much concerned and of course the politics were played in order to pump more money into our program and gave one the impression that the Soviets were way ahead of us and they really weren't, as subsequently we found out.